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Dr. Joe Donnery

By Michelle St. Onge

Photo by Jessica McCafferty

Hometown: Highland Falls, NY

Family: wife, Kathy; two adult children; and dog, Onyx

Education: B.S. in physical therapy from Quinnipiac University; Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.)

at Des Moines University; Medical residency in Erie, PA

Occupation: Partner, Plattsburgh Podiatry Center Community Involvement: Board of Directors, CVPH

Young Joe Donnery was first introduced to the beauty of the North Country when his mother began taking continuing education classes at SUNY Plattsburgh to complement her school administrator career. As a typical ten-year old boy on a family vacation, he had his first introduction to the Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital after snagging a fishhook in his leg. He hasn’t forgotten the “neat trick” the doctor who cared for him used to remove the hook. “Decades after I was cared for at CVPH, I now have the opportunity to operate in their Operating Rooms, and hold a seat on their Board of Directors,” Donnery recalled, completing the circle.

The decades in between included undergraduate study in Connecticut to become a Physical Therapist, practicing in Maryland and Wisconsin, medical school, marriage in Iowa, and a medical residency in Pennsylvania. In the early 1990’s, the Donnery family decided that it was time for their young family to settle down. They chose Plattsburgh, and they have lived here ever since. Dr. Joe opened Plattsburgh Podiatry Center in 1992 with his wife Kathy in the role of business manager until she retired in 2012. The couple live in Saranac, where Dr. Joe has learned to enjoy the simplicity of outdoor home and yard work as a break to the often-complex world of medical practice.

Donnery has a habit of arriving at his office before anyone else, so he invited Strictly Business to join him recently in the stillness of early morning to explore his insights.

SB: What important lessons did you learn early in your career?

JD: As a medical provider, you have to listen. It may sound cliche, but it is true. So often, doctors are in such a hurry. Patients will tell you what the real problem is if you give them the chance to talk. 

SB: What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

JD: See the people who aren’t so visible. I am always impressed that there are thousands of people working in healthcare locally, many of whom you never see. For example, you will see a skilled phlebotomist draw your blood. Behind the scenes, there is an army of people in that lab and in that hospital, with millions of dollars of equipment. All day long they process samples, and most people never even think about that. When you are wheeled into a patient room and everything is sterile, spotless, and just right - that is the result of a whole team of people who work to keep that system going. I don’t take for granted those people I never see. They make it possible for me to do what I do.

SB: How did you decide to go into medicine?

JD: When I was a runner in high school, I hurt my foot. I sought help from a trainer at West Point, an adjacent community, who suggested physical therapy for treatment. That’s when I became interested in going to school for physical therapy. While practicing years later, I found I had an interest in the mechanics and anatomy of the foot. When it was time to go back to school for my doctorate, I meet two podiatrists in Wisconsin who took me in to see some surgeries. That inspired me to choose podiatry, and from there I applied to medical school in Iowa.

SB: What is your favorite quote?

JD: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” This quote is by Teddy Roosevelt, and it is hanging on the wall in our office.

SB: If you could talk to your younger self, what advice would you offer him?

JD: When I was 17, my hair was too long, and I suffered from the unjustified bravado of youth. So, the first thing I would tell my younger self is to cut your hair. I’d add, don’t think too much of yourself just yet. You want self-confidence, but there is a happy medium. No one is too good to pick up the trash. 

SB: What do you look for when you hire?

JD: My partner, Dr. Michael Darst, and I look for someone who is positive, energetic and eager to learn. Our staff has the invaluable ability to quickly go from one person to the next, over and over again with a fresh start and the same positive attitude which is really important in healthcare.

SB: What advice would you offer to someone starting a medical career?

JD: Understand that there is endless studying, and you do have to read everything. Now, it is not just in textbooks, information is at your fingertips in journals, online and through invaluable interaction with medical colleagues.

SB: What do you do in your free time?

JD: I enjoy doing yard work at home and getting outside. I’m also an ardent supporter of the Adirondack Regional Blood Center. I am part of a group of doctors locally who regularly get together for lunch and then go and donate blood together.

SB: What does success look like to you?

JD: Success is patients who leave our care feeling better than when they arrived. When their course of care is done, and their pain is improved, that is success. 

When people stop and say thank you, that feels good. I often see patients lingering at the counter talking to our staff because they are so friendly and eager to help. That kind of personal interaction with patients is a pleasure to see.

SB: What is something no one would guess about you?

JD: I have a great big map of the world at my house. With world events, I go and find the location on the map. Countries, waterways, looking deeper into current events, particularly from the point of geography, gives me a different perspective.

SB: What do you believe the

North Country community

should do today to ensure a prosperous future?

JD: From the health care perspective, it is critical for us to have a strong medical community to support the people who live here, and I can say that we really do have this. We have so many specialties, offices, labs, and imaging centers, and we should appreciate how that contributes to people choosing to stay here. Not only that, the local healthcare industry provides thousands of people with meaningful, rewarding jobs, and those jobs are what lead to prosperity for the community. I have met the greatest people in the North Country and can’t imagine a better place to live.

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